1 John 3
Pulpit Commentary
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.
Verse 1-1 John 5:12. - 3. SECOND MAIN DIVISION. God is Love. Verses 1-24. - (1) The evidence of sonship. Righteousness. Verses 1-3. - The Divine birth is the outcome of the Divine love. Verse 1. - Behold what manner of love! Ποταπός; literally, "of what country," in the New Testament always implies amazement (Matthew 8:27; Mark 13:1; Luke 1:29; Luke 7:39; 2 Peter 3:11); but, as the original meaning leads us to expect, it implies marvelous quality rather than marvelous size. Love must be taken literally: the Divine love itself, and not a mere proof of it, has been given. Ποταπὴν ἀγάπην strikes the key-note of the whole section. "And the goal of this love ἵνα is that once for all (aorist) we have received the title 'children of God.'" And, whatever cavilers may say, the title is rightfully ours. (The words, "and (such) we are," are quite rightly inserted in the Revised Version after "children of God.") This is shown by the fact that the world does not recognize us as such, because from the first it did not recognize God. Had it known the Father, it would have known the children, Διὰ τοῦτο in St. John refers to what precedes (John 5:16, 18; John 7:22; John 8:47; John 10:17; John 12:18, 27, 39); it does not merely anticipate the ὅτι which follows it. In logical phraseology we have here first the major premise, then the conclusion introduced by διὰ τοῦτο, then (to clench the argument) the minor premise introduced by ὅτι, -

We are children of God;

Thereforethe world knows us not;

Forthe world knows not God.

But we must beware of supposing that every one who fails to recognize our form of Christianity is necessarily of the world. St. John invariably (but comp. Revelation 21:7) speaks of "children of God" τέκνα Θεοῦ, St. Paul generally of "sons of God", υἱοὶ Θεοῦ. The latter expression can apply to adopted sons; the former, strictly speaking, implies actual parentage. In saying κληθῶμεν καὶ ἐσμεν, St. John appeals to the conscious nobility of Christians: we have this magnificent title with its corresponding dignity.
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
Verse 2. - Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest (or, it never yet was manifested) what we shall be. The emphatic νῦν is in opposition to οὔπω: our present state is known; our future remains still unrevealed. Again (1 John 2:27, 29), we are in doubt about the construction. What is the nominative to "shall be manifested" φανερωθῇ, "he" or "it"? The context is strongly in favour of "it," i.e., "if it shall be manifested what we shall be;" 1 John 2:28 seems to favour "he," i.e., "if Christ shall be manifested." The context must prevail. "Our future state is not yet made manifest. We know that on its manifestation we shall find ourselves like God." The two things will be contemporaneous. The 'Speaker's Commentary' quotes the following anecdote: "When some heathen converts to Christianity were translating a Catechism into their own language, they came upon 1 John 3:2. They stopped. 'No; it is too much,' they said; 'let us write that we shall be permitted to kiss his feet.'" Beware of inverting the meaning of the last clause, ὅτι, ὀψόμεθα κ.τ.λ.. It does not mean that the seeing God is a proof or sign of our being like him (Matthew 5:8), but the cause of our being like him: "We shall be like him, because we shall see him." God is light (1 John 1:5), and light is seen. In this life νῦν we cannot see the light of the Divine nature "as it is," but only as it is reflected; and the reflected light cannot transmit to us the nature of the Divine original, though it prepares us to receive it. Hereafter the sight, "face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12), of the Light itself will illuminate us through end through, and we shall become like it. Rothe takes "like him" to mean like Christ (Romans 8:16, 17, 29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; comp. John 17:24; Colossians 3:18); comp. Revelation 22:4; Revelation 1:7.
And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
Verse 3. - Such being our hope, based upon God's promises ἐπ αὐτῷ, of becoming like him, we must keep this prospect ever in view, and live up to it. Commentators differ as to whether αὐτῷ refers to the Father or Christ, and so also with regard to ἐκεῖνος. The best way is to take αὐτῷ as God, and ἐκεῖνος as Christ: this agrees with αὐτόν in verse 2, with ἐκεῖνος in verse 5, and with the common use of the two pronouns. It is doubtless possible, especially in St. John, to take ἀκεῖνος as merely recalling the person already indicated by αὐτός or otherwise, and make both pronouns here refer to God. At first sight this seems to make a better sequence between verses 2 and 3: hereafter we shall be like God; therefore here we must strive to become pure as he is. Moreover, it is of the Father that it is written, "Be ye holy; for I am holy" (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:15, 16); and again, "Ye shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). But the other is simpler grammatically, and preserves the logical sequence equally well. Hereafter we shall be like God. Every one who has such a hope as this will aim at becoming like God here; even as Jesus Christ has set us an example, a perfect realization of human conformity to God.
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
Verses 4-12. - Sin is absolutely incompatible with Christ's work of redemption and our union with him (verses 4-8), and also with being born of God, as is shown by the presence or absence of brotherly love (verses 9-12). Verse 4. - Once more the apostle turns from the positive to the negative. Having shown what birth from God involves, he goes on to show what it excludes. "Every one that doeth sin" evidently balances "every one that hath this hope" (verse 3), and "to do sin" is the exact opposite of "to do righteousness" (chapter 2:29). Sin is lawlessness ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐστὶν ἡ ἀνομία. Both words having the article, the two terms are exactly equivalent - all sin is lawlessness, and all lawlessness is sin. Ανομία, like "lawlessness," expresses the ignoring of the law rather than the absence of it. "The law" means the law of God in the fullest sense, not the Mosaic Law. In short, sin is defined as the transgression of God's will.
And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.
Verse 5. - Two additional reasons for the absolute separation of the children of God from sin.

(1) They know well that the Son of God was manifested in the flesh to put away the sins (of the world, John 1:29); not mere "sins," one here and one there, but "the sins" τὰς ἁμαρτίας, whatever sins exist. Ημῶν, though strongly supported, is probably not genuine. Αἴρεν in itself means not "to take on himself, or bear," but "to take away;" it expresses the removal rather than the manner of removal. But it may represent the Hebrew nasa, which combines the two meanings (Leviticus 10:17; Leviticus 24:15; Isaiah 53:12).

(2) The Son of God was absolutely separated from sin.
Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.
Verse 6. - Every one that abideth in Christ ipso facto sinneth not; for, if he sins, he ceases to abide in him. Just in so far as he abides, he does not sin. Or it may mean that be who abides in Christ cannot deliberately and habitually sin. But then would not St. John have written, "He that abideth in Christ abideth not in sin"? But the main difficulty is in the second half. In what sense is it true that every one that sinneth hath not seen Christ? In the main two explanations are given.

(1) The Greek perfect expresses the present and permanent result of a past action, and is often equivalent to a present. No doubt; and all would be easy if we had only to deal with ὤγνωκε, which means, "he hath come to know," equivalent to "he knoweth." But does ἑώρακε ever mean "he seeth," as Alford suggests as the best rendering for a version? If St. John simply means that whoever sins thereby ceases to see and know Christ, he would hardly express himself thus.

(2) The fact of the man's sinning proves that his perception and knowledge have been imperfect, if not superficial, or even imaginary; just as the fact of Christians leaving the Church proves that they never were really members of it (1 John 2:19). This explanation is preferable. In verse 2 we were told that seeing God will make us like God; and similarly, to see and know Christ make us like Christ. Whoever is unlike Christ, to that extent has not seen nor come to know him. The best of us, it may be, have seen but the hem of his garment.
Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
Verse 7. - St. John repeats his declaration with emphasis and fresh considerations; hence the repetition of the tender address (1 John 2:1), "Little children, let no one ever seduce you into the belief that character and practice can be separated. He that doeth righteousness is righteous; for a righteous man inevitably practices righteousness." There are always persons who endeavour to reconcile religion with moral laxity, and in St. John's day some Gnostics definitely taught that conduct was immaterial to the spiritual man, for no external acts could defile such. "The external acts," says St. John, "prove the man's spiritual character and origin. He that doeth righteousness is righteous and is of God: he that doeth sin is of the devil." Note the difference between "even as" in verses 3 and 7. There καθώς introduces a pattern as a fresh motive for self-purification; here it introduces a comparison. Christ is righteous, and his character produces nothing but righteousness; so also is it with the righteous Christian.
He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
Verse 8. - The contrary position given to make the statement clear and emphatic. The devil ὁ διάβολος is the great accuser or slanderer, as in Job 1 and 2 (comp. John 13:2; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 12:9, 12; Revelation 20:2, 10). The devil sinneth from the beginning ἀπ ἀρχῆς. From the beginning of what? From the beginning of sin. The devil was the first sinner, and has never ceased to sin. Other answers are: from the beginning

(1) of the devil,

(2) of the creation,

(3) of human history.

Some of these are scarcely in harmony with Scripture; none, perhaps, fit the context so well as the explanation adopted. If the devil committed the first sin, and has sinned unceasingly ever since, then whoever sins is akin to him, is morally his offspring (John 8:44). There is the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the evil one, and man cannot find or make a third domain; if he is not in the one he is in the other. This verse, like John 8:44, seems to be conclusive as to the personal existence of the devil. Ακ τοῦ διαβόλου balances ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ: if the one is a mere personification of a tendency, why not the other? Both should be personal or neither. "It is not true that St. John speaks so confidently of a devil because he was a Jew and was filled with Hebrew opinions. For once that the devil is introduced in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, he is spoken of twenty times in any Gospel or Epistle" (Maurice), and not least in the Gentile Luke. With the latter half of verse 8. comp, verse 5. Christ's act in removing our sins from us destroys the devil's works; for by the manifestation of the Light (John 1:5) the darkness is dispersed and destroyed. Our sins are the evil one's works: what is sin in us is his natural occupation. (For λύειν in the sense of unbinding or dissolving, and therefore destroying - a use specially frequent in St. John - comp. John 2:19; John 5:18; John 7:23; John 10:35.) The φανέρωσις includes the whole work of Christ on earth.
Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
Verses 9-12. - Sin is absolutely incompatible with being born of God, as is shown by the presence or absence of brotherly love. Verse 9. - Having stated that every one that doeth sin is of the devil, St. John now states the opposite truth, but from the other side; not "every one that doeth no sin is of God," which hardly needs to be stated; but every one that is begotten of God doeth no sin, which is startling. Who, then, can be begotten of God? But the statement is similar to that in verse 6, and is to be similarly understood. So far as any man sins, his regeneration is incomplete. If the new birth from God were perfect, sin would be morally impossible οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτεῖν. The new principle of life abides and grows in him, and, under perfect conditions, it entirely prevents the old unregenerate nature from rebelling. Note that St. John does not say οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτεῖν," cannot commit a sin," but οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτάνειν, "cannot be a sinner." An act is different from a state of sin. This is an ideal to which every Christian is bound to aspire - inability to sin. But to some extent this ideal is a fact in the case of every true Christian. There are sins which to a good man are by God's grace quite impossible. The meaning of σπέρμα αὐτοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ μένει is uncertain: either

(1) "His seed abideth in Him," i.e., those who are born of God abide in God; or

(2) "his seed abideth in him," i.e., the new principle which he has received continues to operate in the man; or

(3) "His seed abideth in him," i.e., God's quickening Gift continues to operate in the man. (For σπέρμα αὐτοῦ, in the sense of "those born of God," comp. Isaiah 53:10.) But this is the least probable of the three interpretations; in this sense St. John would probably have written τέκνον. Note the tense of the concluding verb, γεγέννηται, not ἐγεννήθη: his birth from God is a fact which still continues, not one that is past and gone.
In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
Verse 10. - The question whether "in this" ἐν τούτῳ refers to what precedes or to what follows is here unimportant, for both are similar in meaning; and "in this" may refer to both. "By their fruits ye shall know them." The children of God do righteousness, and not sin; the children of the devil do sin, and not righteousness. Of course, moral parentage is meant in both cases. Nothing here lends any countenance to the view that the writer is a dualist and inculcates two principles of existence - God and the devil. All, whether good or bad, are God's creatures (John 1:3); but while all are his children by creation, some become his children spiritually also, while others become the children of Satan. St. John's "teaching about the devil is not at all agreeable to those who dwell exclusively on the sunny aspects of the world and of life, and would shut their eyes to what is dark and terrible. They like to hear of a Being who is all-gracious and loving; the vision of one who is the enemy of all that is gracious and loving shocks them - they wish to suppose that it belongs to the world's infancy, and that it disappears as we know more" (Maurice). The expression, "the children of the devil," must not be confounded with the Hebraistic expressions, "children of perdition, children of darkness," "children of light, son of death," "son of perdition," etc. As so often, St. John not only restates the case in a new form, but adds a new thought to it - he that loveth not his brother. This forms the link with the next section (verses 13-24), on brotherly love. Of all failures in doing righteousness this is the most conspicuous - failing to love one's brother. And who is my brother? The answer is the same as to the question, "And who is my neighbour?" Mankind at large. The meaning cannot be limited to the children of God. Even τοὺς ἀδελφούς (verses 14, 16) does not exclude unbelievers, still less does τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ. This is confirmed:

(1) By the fact that the opposite case (verse 13) is the children of the world hating Christians; the true opposite of Christians loving Christians would be the children of the world hating one another.

(2) By the cited example of Christ (verse 16), who died for us when we were aliens from God. Of course, if the Christian must love all men, a fortiori he must love Christians.
For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
Verse 11. - Because the message (ἀγγελία: see on 1 John 1:5) which ye heard from the beginning is this. Not merely in the beginning, but from the beginning; it was among the first announcements, and it had never ceased to be in force. Jerome, in his 'Commentary on Galatians' (Galatians 6:10), tells us that when St. John became too infirm to preach, he used often to say no more than this, "Little children, love one another." His hearers at last wearied of it, and said, "Master, why dost thou always say this?" "It is the Lord's command," he replied; "and if this alone is done, it is enough."
Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous.
Verse 12. - The sentence is of an elliptical form, common in language. The full sense is, "Not that we should do even as Cain, who was of the evil one, and slew his brother." Cain's conduct typifies the attitude of the world towards Christians. Σφάζειν in the New Testament occurs only here and in Revelation. In the LXX and the New Testament it seems to mean "slay" without necessarily implying the cutting the throat of a victim. That Cain's works were evil is not stated in Genesis, but is inferred from God's rejection of him. Compare carefully the remarkably parallel passage, Hebrews 11:4. The wicked envy the good the blessedness of their goodness, and try to destroy what they cannot share. The war between good and evil is one of extermination; but the wicked would destroy the righteous, while the righteous would destroy wickedness by converting the wicked.
Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.
Verses 13-24. - Hate and death contrasted with love and life (verses 13-15); generous love, which has its pattern in the self-sacrifice of Christ (verses 16, 17); sincere love, which is the ground of our boldness toward God, who has commanded us to love (verses 18-24). Verse 13. - Human nature is the same as of old. There is still a Cain, the world, hating its Abel, the Church. Therefore marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you. Here only does St. John use the address, "brethren," which is appropriate to the subject of brotherly love. Elsewhere his readers are "children" or "beloved." The "if" (εἰ with indicative) expresses no doubt as to the fact, but states it gently and conditionally.
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.
Verse 14. - We know that we have passed over out of death into life (John 5:24), because, etc. "We" is emphatic; whatever the world may feel about us, we have certain knowledge (not γινώσκομεν, but ἡμεῖς οἴδαμεν). The love of the brethren is the cause, not of the passing over, but of our knowing it. It proves that we have passed. And this test every one can apply to himself; "Do I, or do I not, find the love of the brethren within me?" A Christian can no more live without love than a plant can live without growth. He that loveth not abideth in death: he has not made the passage over. There is no accusative after "loveth," τὸν ἀδελφόν being a gloss. The statement is quite general; absence of love implies an atmosphere of death.
Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.
Verse 15. - As in 1 John 4:20, St. John passes at once from not loving to hating, treating the two as equivalent. He takes no account of the neutral ground of indifference. He that is not for his brother is against him. Indifference is hate quiescent, there being nothing to excite it. Love is the only security against hate. And as every one who does not love is potentially a hater, so every hater is potentially a murderer. A murderer is a hater who expresses his hatred in the most emphatic way. A hater who does not murder abstains for various reasons from this extreme way of expressing his hate. But the temper of the two men is the same; and it is obvious (οἴδατε "ye know what needs no evidence") that every murderer is incapable of possessing eternal life. It is the murderous temper, not the act of homicide, that excludes from eternal life. St. John, of course, does not mean that murder is an unpardonable sin; but he shows that hate and death go together, as love and life, and that the two pairs are mutually exclusive. How can life and the desire to extinguish life be compatible? It is very forced to interpret ἀνθρωποκτόνος as either "destroyer of his own soul," or "destroyer of the hated man's soul," by provoking him to return hate for hate.
Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
Verses 16, 17. - The nature of love as shown by Christ, and its obligation on Christians. Love has been declared the criterion for distinguishing the children of God from the children of the devil. It remains to show what love is; and this is best seen in a concrete example. "The Eternal Word, incarnate and dying for the truth, inspires St. John to guard it with apostolic chivalry; but also this revelation of the heart of God melts him into tenderness towards the race which Jesus has loved so well. To St. John a lack of love for men seems sheer dishonour to the love of Christ" (Liddon). Verse 16. - In this (verse 10; 1 John 2:3)we have come to know (have acquired and possess the knowledge of) love (what love is), in that he laid down his life for us. This is better than "We have come to know love as consisting in this, that he laid down his life for us," which would have been ἐν τούτῳ οϋσαν. Cain is the type of hate; Christ, of love. Cain took his brother's life to benefit himself; Christ laid down his own life to benefit his enemies (see on John 10:12). This realized ideal of love we must imitate; ready to sacrifice ourselves, and even our lives, for the good of others. The effacement of another's rights and perhaps existence for one's own sake is the essence of hatred; the effacement of one's self for another's sake is the essence of love. Christ died for those who hated him; and the Christian must confront the hatred of the world with a love that is ready even to die for the haters. This shows that the "brethren" here and in verse 14, though used primarily of Christians, does not exclude unbelievers; otherwise the parallel with Christ would be spoiled (see on verse 10).
But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
Verse 17. - "But δέ if a man not only fails to do this, but even steadily contemplates θεωρῇ another's distress, and forthwith (aorist, κλείσῃ closes his heart against him, although he has the means of relieving him, how can he have any love for God?" The meaning is not, "How can God love him?" as is plain from 1 John 4:20. But possibly "love such as God has shown towards us" may be meant (1 John 4:10). "The world's goods" τὸν βίον τοῦ κόσμου is literally "the world's means of life" (see on 1 John 2:16, and Trench on 'New Testament Synonyms,' for the difference between βίος and ζώη. (For τὰ σπλάγχνα as the seat of the affections, comp. Luke 1:78; 2 Corinthians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 7:15; Philippians 1:8; Philippians 2:1; Philemon 1:7, 12.) The ἀπ αὐτοῦ is graphic; closes his heart and turns away from him (1 John 2:28).
My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
Verses 18-24. - As in chapter 1 John 2:28, St. John bursts out into personal exhortation (comp. verse 13; chapter 1 John 4:1, 7), based upon the preceding statements. He then restates the motive in a new form both positively and negatively. Verse 18. - Little children (τεκνία, the μου being spurious). This address, as in 1 John 2:28, introduces the summing up of the section. It may be doubted whether the absence of ἐν with the first pair λόγῳ μηδὲ τῇ γλώσσῃ and its presence with the second ἐν ἔργῳ καὶ ἀληθείᾳ indicates any marked difference, as if λόγῳ expressed the instrument, and ἐν ἔργῳ the element or sphere. This introduces a false antithesis, like "Do not dig with a stick, but dig in the earth." (For the Hebraic ἐν to express the instrument, comp. Revelation 13:10.) "Nor yet with the tongue" is not a tautological addition. One may love in word only, and yet the affectionate words may be quite sincere; and this is a common case. People say kind things which they mean at the moment, but afterwards they do not take the trouble to act kindly. But to love with the tongue only is far worse. This is to say kind things which one does not mean, and which one knows to be unreal. Deeds are needed to complete the kind word; truth is needed to correct the insincere tongue.
And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.
Verse 19. - In this; or, hereby ἐν τούτῳ, here clearly refers to what precedes; and the thought is similar to that in verse 14. By sincere and active love we shall come to know γνωσόμεθα that we are children of the truth. "The truth" here is almost equivalent to "God;" and we seem to have here an echo of Christ's words to Pilate, "Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice" (comp. 1 John 2:21; John 3:31; John 8:23, 47, etc.). The construction in what follows contains several doubtful points:

(1) whether πείσομεν is coordinate with γνωσόμεθα or ἐσμέν;

(2) if the former, whether ἐν τούτῳ goes on to πείσομεν, or is confined to γνωσόμεθα;

(3) whether we should read ὅ τι ἐάν or ὅτι ἐὰν.

In all three cases the first alternative is perhaps preferable: And hereby we shall persuade our heart before him (that we are of the truth, and therefore have nothing to fear), whereinsoever our heart condemn us. But on the third point see Dr. Field's note in 'Otium Norvicense,' pars 3. Before him is very emphatic; it is in God's sight that the children of the truth are able to quiet their hearts, not merely in their own eyes. (For πείθω used absolutely, comp. Matthew 28:14; Acts 12:20; 2 Corinthians 5:11.)
For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.
Verse 20. - Our heart means our conscience, not the affections, which would be σπάγχνα (verse 17). If we are conscious of sincere and habitual love, this will calm us when conscience reproaches us (comp. 1 John 1:9; 1 John 2:1, 2). St. John never uses the more technical term συνείδησις, which occurs in the Acts and 1 Peter, and is very frequent in St. Paul. God is greater than our heart. It is asked whether this means that he is more merciful or more rigorous. Neither the one nor the other. It means that, although our conscience is not infallible, God is. Our hearts may be deceived; he cannot be. He knoweth all things. An awful thought for the impenitent, a blessed and encouraging thought for the penitent, He knows our sins; but he also knows our temptations, our struggles, our sorrow, and our love.
Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.
Verse 21. - Beloved (1 John 2:7; 1 John 3:2), there is a still more blessed possibility. If the consciousness of genuine love will sustain us before God when our heart reproaches us, much more may we have confidence towards him (1 John 2:28) when it does not reproach us.
And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.
Verse 22. - And (as a guarantee that this confidence is not baseless or misdirected) whatsoever we ask, we receive from him. Note the present tense: λαμβάνομεν, not ληψόμεθα. Whatever the child of God asks as such, he ipso facto obtains (John 15:7). This is the ideal condition of things; for the child of God cannot ask what displeases his Father. And we are his children "because we keep his commandments." The ὅτι must not be connected too closely with λαμβάνομεν, as if our obedience were the cause of God's hearing our prayers. Our obedience shows that we are such as can pray efficaciously. (For the parallelism, comp. Exodus 15:26; Isaiah 38:3.)
And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.
Verse 23. - And his commandment is this (comp. verse 11), that we should believe the Name, etc. "Do not forget," St. John would say, "what the full scope of his commandment is. It is not exhausted by loving the brethren; we must also believe in his Son: and the one implies the other." What is the meaning of "believing the Name πιστεύειν τῷ ὀνόματι? We can believe a document (John 2:22; John 5:47), or a statement (John 5:47; John 12:38), or a person (John 10:37, 38); but how can we believe a name? By believing those truths which the name implies: in the present case by believing that Jesus is the Saviour, is the Messiah, is the Son of God. To produce this belief and its consequence, eternal life, is the purpose of St. John's Gospel (John 20:31); it is also the will of God (John 6:40), and the command of his Son (John 14:1). This belief will inevitably produce as its fruit that we "love one another [present tense of what is habitual], even as Christ gave us commandment" (John 13:34; John 15:12, 17). Throughout the Epistle, and especially in this passage (verses 22-24), the references to Christ's farewell discourses in the Gospel are frequent. Here the main ideas of those discourses are represented - obedience to the Divine commands, particularly as to faith and love; promised answer to prayer, abiding in God; the gift of the Spirit (see on 1 John 4:5).
And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.
Verse 24. - We are again in doubt as to whether αὐτοῦ and αὐτός refer to God the Father or to Christ. The former seems better on account of verse 22; but the latter may be right (John 14:15; John 15:5). Compare the conclusion of the first main division (1 John 2:24-28). In this (or, hereby) probably refers to what follows; the ἐν does not disprove this, in spite of the ἐκ which follows. St. John has combined two constructions: "In this we know... in that" ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν... ὅτι, as in verse 16; and "From this we know... from" ἐκ τούτου γινώσκομεν... ἐκ τοῦ; comp. 1 John 4:6. From the Spirit which he gave us. "He" is probably the Father (John 14:16, 17), and the aorist ἔδωκεν refers to the special occasion of Pentecost. Hitherto St. John has mentioned only the Father and the Son; now the Spirit also (alluded to in 1 John 2:20, 27) is introduced by name as a witness and test of the truth. The sentence forms the transition to the subject of the next section (1 John 4:1-6), which is a sort of digression, the subject of love being mentioned in verse 7. This verse is said to have been a favourite with Spinoza.

Pulpit Commentary


1 John 2
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